Hap­less helpers re­count own res­cue in Thai cave

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Asean Focus -

THERE were a host of he­roes in July’s dra­matic res­cue of 13 mem­bers of a youth soc­cer team from a cave in north­ern Thai­land ... and then there were the hap­less would-be helpers from the Thai Well Water As­so­ci­a­tion.

It turns out that 17 peo­ple in all were res­cued by the ex­pert for­eign cave divers who rushed to lend their unique abil­i­ties to save the boys and their coach.

The story of the first four peo­ple to be res­cued – barely re­ported and now mostly for­got­ten – was re­counted Wed­nes­day by the as­so­ci­a­tion’s pres­i­dent, Su­rapin Chai­chom­poo, who ex­plained how he and three em­ploy­ees spent two days drain­ing water from the cave in an at­tempt to help the res­cue, took a nap, and found them­selves trapped in­side with the water ris­ing.

He said that on their third day of be­ing trapped, two British divers search­ing for the boys stum­bled upon them and im­pro­vised a res­cue, tak­ing them out one by one af­ter giv­ing them a 30-minute crash course in div­ing. Su­rapin said they made their way through the murky wa­ters by swim­ming and some­times walk­ing, try­ing to avoid sharp ob­sta­cles in the low vis­i­bil­ity.

Su­rapin said he was un­able to con­tact them af­ter­ward, but would still like to thank them.

“I re­ally owe my life to these two divers. They were here to help the 13 peo­ple but I got stuck first af­ter I went in to work.

If they didn’t save me that day, I wouldn’t be here to­day,” Su­rapin said by phone from the north­ern city of Chi­ang Mai. “The same for the other three peo­ple. I re­ally owe them, the two divers John and Richard. If they are abroad, I will fly over to per­son­ally thank them my­self.”

The tale of the lit­tle-known first res­cue resur­faced Satur­day when Rick Stan­ton – who with div­ing buddy John Volan­then dis­cov­ered the four on June 28, and the cave boys on July 2 – gave a talk at the an­nual “Hid­den Earth” con­fer­ence of British cavers in North Som­er­set in Eng­land, ac­cord­ing to a re­port on the web­site Dark­ness Be­low, which car­ries news for un­der­ground ex­plor­ers.

The two divers had ar­rived at the cave site just the day be­fore they found Su­rapin and team.

“The for­eign divers came here as vol­un­teers. They are con­fi­dent in their abil­i­ties.” said Su­rapin, who noted the amount of spe­cialised equip­ment they car­ried. “You have to un­der­stand that these for­eign­ers have a bit of crazy in them. They like to do crazy things. But they are very good at div­ing.”

Su­rapin and his group were part of an early group of helpers who rushed in be­fore the res­cue ef­fort was prop­erly or­gan­ised. The oth­ers work­ing in­side the cave were ap­par­ently not as tired, how­ever.

“When I woke up I thought to my­self ‘Why is the cave half-flooded?’ So I ran out to look to­ward the en­trance,” Su­rapin said.

“I looked back and ran to the high mound where we were sleep­ing. It turned out ev­ery­one had left and it was only the four of us left. I told my guys ‘wake up, wake up.’”

Su­rapin said the group was not im­me­di­ately wor­ried if the wa­ters did not rise fur­ther, be­cause they had enough food and sup­plies to last a month.

Still, there were an­nounce­ments to evac­u­ate the cave and its sur­round­ings be­cause water lev­els be­gan to rise again.

“I was telling my guys, if it can rise it can de­crease. It will prob­a­bly de­crease in the morn­ing,” Su­rapin said. “But no, the amount of water kept in­creas­ing.”

At one point, Su­rapin said, he be­gan to hear clank­ing noises un­der the water that he later found out was the sound of the British divers and their oxy­gen tanks knock­ing against the cave’s walls.

“The sound was com­ing from the cave’s en­trance and it was get­ting louder and louder,” he re­called. So he be­gan throw­ing rocks into the water.

“The first rock I threw in didn’t get a re­ac­tion. The sound of clank­ing tanks was still soft,” he said. “So I threw an­other one. This time, the clank­ing noises got re­ally loud and we heard clank­ing non-stop. Af­ter that I saw a flash­light be­gin to sur­face and told the guys ‘hey, there re­ally is some­one here.’”

He said when the divers found his group, “They thought they found 13 peo­ple. I told them ‘no, it’s four.’ They said ‘OK, oh my God.’”

Su­rapin said his three em­ploy­ees now say they will never go near a cave again. “If you want me to go up a tree, I’ll go up a tree,” vowed one. “But no caves any­more, they’re scary.”

Photo: AP

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